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Environmental concerns are at the forefront, and our demand for sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics is growing. Biodegradable plastic, also called bioplastic, has become an emerging solution to the extent that we can’t do without it.
Let’s explore the fascinating process and how biodegradable plastic is made. Before that, it’s good to understand the concept and importance of this awesome solution. Have you ever wondered how biodegradable plastic is made? It’s a cool and much more environmentally friendly process, so let’s check it out.
Bioplastic, or biodegradable plastics, as they are often called, are remarkable plastics to traditional plastics. They are specific plastics that can naturally break down over time and return to the environment without leaving harmful residues.
In most cases, you’ll find that they are made from plant-based materials like potatoes, sugarcane, or corn. These materials are quickly broken down into essential components, mainly by bacteria and fungi.
This process is called biodegradation, which happens when organic matter decomposes naturally. In fact, they share many similar properties to traditional plastics, like moldability, versatility, and durability.
But here’s the main difference: Unlike traditional plastics that stay for centuries, bioplastics are a better solution to overcoming the challenges of non-degradable materials. Now that we have grasped the concept let’s uncover the advantages of bioplastics.
We can’t help but keep stressing the numerous advantages of bioplastic materials. Besides being eco-friendly, they offer many benefits, contributing to a healthier planet. Among other reasons, here is why you would find your best coffee brand using bioplastics for packaging.
- They are easily renewable: Since we can easily get bioplastics from cornstarch and sugarcane, we can plant and harvest them easily, so they get replaced as we use them. Besides, they can replace petroleum-based plastics and protect the environment!
- Reduced carbon footprint: Traditional plastics are made from fossil fuels. When burned, they produce harmful gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the environment.
Usually, these gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause climate change. On the other hand, renewable sources like cornstarch do not release greenhouse gases when burned, therefore having a reduced carbon footprint.
- Biodegradable materials reduce waste accumulation: Traditional plastics do not break down easily and can stay for hundreds of years. This means they can accumulate in landfills and oceans, harming wildlife and polluting the environment.
The good thing about biodegradable plastic products is that they break down over time in the presence of microorganisms. They will always decompose and return to the environment as organic matter.
- Resource conservation: Can you imagine if we could over-rely on non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels? Besides their negative effects on the environment, they will be depleted rapidly, leaving little energy for future generations.
And that’s where these biodegradable plastics come in, ensuring we maintain a greener planet for generations.
To understand the process of making biodegradable plastic, we must first understand the materials used. When creating biodegradable plastic, selecting raw materials is the most important factor.
Of course, different materials are used, each with its unique characteristics. These are the three main raw materials used with their degradability factors:
PBAT (Polybutylene Adipate Terephthalate): This biodegradable polyester material is highly flexible. In addition, it is more durable, making it a better option for bioplastic bags, tins, and bottles.
PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates): PHA is produced in industries using bacteria to ferment the organic matter and is produced by bacteria that convert plant sugars into polymers.
Unlike other materials, it has the best biodegradability properties under varying environmental conditions.
You’ll come across many PHA bioplastic products like food packages, a few medical devices, and 3D printing.
PLA (Polylactic acid): It is obtained from the most common renewable resources, like sugarcane and corn starch. It is highly versatile, making it another good option for biodegradable plastic.
In addition, it has similar properties to conventional plastics, but it’s very compostable under the right conditions. This makes it the best option for disposable cutlery, textile, and partly in food packaging.
Step 1: Raw material preparation
In the first step, a suitable raw material like PBAT or PLA undergoes careful preparation. Every selected raw material is cleaned, dried, and processed into a suitable form for further processing.
The materials undergo sorting, cleaning, and refining. This crucial step purifies the materials by removing all impurities that can interfere with the bioplastic’s quality.
While compostable plastics and biodegradable materials are not necessarily good for the environment, there’s minimal elimination of harmful gases to the environment at this stage.
Step 2: Polymerization and shaping
After preparation, the material undergoes polymerization, where molecules are linked to form a polymer chain. The polymer chain then serves as a building block of the upcoming biodegradable product.
This is how polymerization occurs when making bioplastics.
This process is the most important to produce the desired properties of biodegradable plastic. Different techniques like blow molding or injection molding are carefully applied during the process.
Next, the polymer is shaped into different forms depending on the usage. For example, it can be shaped into pellets, films, or sheets. Advanced techniques and technologies are also included in this process to ensure the production of high-quality products.
Step 3: Product manufacturing
Finally, biodegradable plastics are transformed into different biodegradable plastic products. If you’ve ever thought, “What is bioplastic used for?” Well, the most common products include everyday items we use.
For instance, disposable cutlery, packaging materials, and bags are all made from biodegradable plastic. The manufacturing process ensures that products are of high quality before presenting them to us for everyday use.
With our newfound understanding, we have marveled at the raw materials that bring biodegradable plastics to life and witnessed their incredible advantages. From preparing renewable resources to polymerization, we have grasped how biodegradable plastic is made.
These plastics are a beacon of hope to environmental challenges posed by traditional plastics. Their ability to reduce carbon footprints and break down naturally pave the way for a more sustainable future.
By understanding the importance of selecting eco-friendly materials and how biodegradable plastic is made, we can contribute to a greener future.
The decomposition of bioplastics depends on various factors such as material composition, microbial activity, and environmental conditions. However, most of them last 3 to 6 months to fully decompose in ideal circumstances.
Since biodegradable plastics are made from fossil fuels, they can contaminate our plastic recycling streams by creating microplastics.
Generally, you can recycle biodegradable plastics alongside traditional plastics. However, it’s worth noting that not all biodegradable plastic products are suitable for recycling.
Biodegradable plastics are only a partial solution on their own. The solution to the plastic pollution crisis involves a comprehensive approach, including recycling, waste reduction, and more.
Video to be included: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_eGOyAiNIQ
Biodegradable plastics are slightly more costly than traditional plastics because of using specialized manufacturing processes and renewable resources. However, as technology advances and the demand for bioplastic increases, the cost gradually decreases as they become cost-competitive.